Holy See

7 Interesting Facts about the Holy See

Many people quite often confuse The Holy See with the Vatican City. They are not the same thing. The Vatican City is a state located within the Italian city of Rome. The Holy See is actually the name given to the government of the Roman Catholic Church. Both the Vatican and Holy See are intriguing topics and there is a lot to know about them both. Brush up on your knowledge with these interesting facts about the Holy See.

7 Interesting Facts about the Holy See

1. The Holy See is a sovereign entity

The Holy See is not the same thing as the Vatican City. The Vatican is an independent city-state located in the heart of Rome. The Holy See (also called The See of Rome), is a sovereign entity and the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome aka The Pope. The Pope is the head of state of the Vatican City.

The Pope

2. The Holy See is not the Vatican

The difference between the Vatican City and the Holy See is that The Holy See is the universal government of the Catholic Church and its headquarters is in the Vatican City. The Vatican City is located within Rome.

Holy See

3. The Holy See is an absolute monarchy

The Holy See is an absolute monarchy. This is a form of government in which a single person holds absolute, autocratic power. Just six countries in the world are absolute monarchies. These are the Vatican City, Brunei, Eswatini, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which is a federation of seven absolute monarchies.

The Holy See

4. The Holy See maintains the Swiss Guard

The Holy See employs the Swiss Guard, also called the Pontifical Swiss Guard. These guards are responsible for safeguarding the Vatican, the pontifical villa of Castel Gandolfo and protecting the Pope. The competition to become a Swiss Guard is tough. In order to be considered for the role, recruits must be: male, unmarried, Roman Catholic and with Swiss citizenship. They have to be between 19 and 30 years of age, and at least 5 feet 8 inches (1.74 metres) tall. The Swiss Guard is often called “the world’s smallest army,” and they are also one of the oldest military units in continuous operation. Pope Julius II first established the Swiss Guard in 1506.

Swiss Guard

5. The Swiss Guards are not the Vatican police

The Swiss Guards are sometimes erroneously referred to as the Vatican City police. There is a separately administered force called the Gendarmerie Corps of Vatican City State. This force polices the Vatican City and the extraterritorial properties of the Holy See, except for St. Peter’s Square. This is because St. Peter’s Square is under the jurisdiction of the Italian police. According to the Lateran Treaty of 1929, the powers of the Italian police authorities “cease to operate at the foot of the steps leading to the Basilic”.

Swiss Guard

6. The Vatican City State is very small

Just over 800 people live within the walls of the Vatican City. This includes the Pope who lives in the Vatican Palace. It is the smallest state in the world by population. With an area of 49 hectares (121 acres), it is also the smallest state in the world by area.

Vatican City State

7. The Vatican City is home to the Sistine Chapel

Despite its small size, the State of the Vatican City is home to a wealth of art and architectural gems. Over 6-million people come here each year to see the sites. Top attractions include Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square), St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums, which includes the Sistine Chapel.

Vatican Museums

Melanie May

Melanie is an intrepid solo traveller, endlessly curious about people, places and food. She is a fan of slow travel and loves exploring the world by mouth, discovering a culture through its food. Having backpacked her way around the world she turned her wanderlust into a career and is now a full-time travel writer.

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